Never did I think I would ever be so excited to sniff out the scent of manure wafting through the air, marking the arrival of planting season. The icy winds are beginning to thaw and the senses are experiencing an awakening. Smells, colours and light all returning in a crescendo of rejuvenation to soften the achiness of winter. As every gardener knows, the smell of… fertiliser carries the promise of spring across the landscape after a very hard, grey winter, alerting all gardeners it’s time to start planting!
Preparing your garden for a successful season…
If it’s still too cold outside, there are many things you can do in preparation for planting season. Begin planting indoors, recycling materials you have around the house. Save your plastic bottles and cut them in half to use as seedling green houses. Functioning as little self-watering seed incubators, you can add a sprinkle of miracle grow or pellets of chicken manure to the soil, add water and seeds, then place somewhere sunny. Check back in a few weeks time to see how they are coming along.
Start turning and watering the soil
Water the soil, maintaining moisture levels at a constant to allow any fallen seeds to “wake up” from their long slumber.
I was a bit lazy at the end of last year’s growing season having run out of steam, and I just left a lot of the plants to dry out on their own. The results were, that nature began the gardening season for me this year. Tiny seedlings started sprouting in the containers. As soon as they sprung up, I watered them and placed them beneath an upside-down glass vase to act as a mini green house.
TIP: You can use the top half of a plastic bottle and hold it in place by packing the soil around the base. However if you have strong winds like I do on the patio, glass is your best bet.
With the soil moistened you will also need to turn it, mixing in any nutrients you have available. Use compost, coffee grounds, banana peels, chicken manure pellets (sold in any garden store), epsom salt, fish heads (ask for them at the local fish market) or anything else you have that will enrich the soil. Then, using a shovel or a hand trowel (or the forky thing if you will), mix the soil to “awaken it”. Not only will you be evenly distributing the nutrients throughout the container, but you will also be airing the soil out to help it breathe. Doing this will create a healthy environment for your plants to thrive in. Remember to remove any weeds before hand.
Tip: Adding a worm or two to the container is a great way to keep the soil aired all season long, and will contribute to the general well being of your plants.
Lay it all out there
The long winter days spent indoors inspired many hours of wistful contemplation and planning of ambitious endeavours in the garden, including a bean arch (cause why not), as well as a vertical garden wall to possibly cover the crack between the fence on the patio, where during winter night’s with the glow of lights, I could see my neighbours in the intimacy of their living room and they very likely in mine.
Draw from last year’s hit and misses to decide where to plant this year. Each garden environment is different so only you will know what factors you will need to consider and improve on. My biggest adversary on the patio last year (besides the ruthless aphids) was wind. Because the patio sits on the top floor of an apartment building with no surrounding buildings (to block out the sun fortunately) or block the wind (less fortunately), the wind storms that come from living in a sea climate were brutal. My lovely viridescent broccoli took quite a hit, and so did my vertical growing beans.
TIP: If you are feeling rather artsy, try sketching out a plan. You can keep referring back to the chart as you transplant throughout the season. It will also help you keep track of which plants grow well together, and which to keep apart.
- I have purchased a tunnel shaped greenhouse online (only for about $30), which fits over the containers with a structure and a plastic cover to protect the seedlings from the wind.
- This time around, everything that is fast growing (like beans, cucumber, etc) must be guided to grow horizontally, rather than upwards, using the patio wall as a wind barrier. To ensure this, I will craft a bean arch going from one planter to another using bamboo and wire.
- A huge advantage with container gardening, is being able to choose the best possible environment for our plants. Last year I had placed the containers in different corners of the patio for aesthetic reasons. This year, I will choose a more practical approach, and line the planters in a neat row in the middle of the patio. Not only will having them next to each other add wind protection for the weaker plants, but they will be placed to get a maximum amount of sun exposure throughout the day.
Time to start your nursery
I also learned last year to start the tomatoes early, and eggplant even earlier as they both require a long period of nurturing before they bare any fruit.
Also, prioritise using seeds left over from last year’s harvest, as they will be more adapt to your environment having thrived in it before. Each generation (each season) of seed, will be even more fitted to your garden then the last.
If you have not yet started and you are reading this, STOP READING and go plant something. No really! Go plant anything. Eat an apple or a cucumber and plant the seeds. Don’t waste another precious second to begin.